Live Review: Tennis Grows Up at the Great American Music Hall


Pure Bathing Culture
Friday, Oct. 24, 2014
Great American Music Hall

The siren song of Alaina Moore (vocals, keyboard) and Patrick Riley (guitar) of Tennis once drew me into a tent at Outside Lands — not to fatal Grecian cliffs, but to the floating placental bliss of “My Better Self” (off their sophomore album, 2012's Young & Old). Since then, the release of last month's Ritual in Repeat has marked a welcome transformation from their signature lo-fi pop, a perfect translucent sugar crystal.

Each track draws on a colorful assortment of vocal textures and rhythmic layering suitable for every stage of a great party: welcoming guests with nonthreatening gospel organ tones (“Meter Line”), escalating surf rock shenanigans (“Solar on the Rise”), rising sexual tension (“This Isn’t My Song”), and lounging in a contented stupor (“Wounded Heart”).

[jump] Having contributed nothing at all to their artistic maturation, I still feel proud of them. They strode past being a aesthetically pleasing, wholesome couple of young pop and onto the rococo platform of the Great American Music Hall with a seriously delicious mezze platter of cultivated musicianship.

Riley’s newly strawberry blond mop and Moore’s pleasing pyramid of blonde curls blazed like haloes. Moore’s mellifluous voice cut through the rest of Tennis with a silvery clarity from an oddly distant piano set up to the left of the stage.

Riley and James Barone (percussion) collaborated on the far right of the stage, each playing methodically and modestly. Riley didn’t quite ignore Moore; he would periodically turn and lock on to her song from afar.

The fresh, nautical crispness I first witnessed of Tennis at Outside Lands gave birth to a really nuanced performance. A solid one third of the sold-out venue’s crowd even danced through Moore’s humble thanks for the packed hall.

Pure Bathing Culture’s stage presence, on the other hand, left a little something to be desired. Thematically, the band's revival of the pastel-colored '80s ballad was the perfect choice for touring with Tennis.

In practice, however, the nondescript flavor of their performance reminded me of the artifice of fluorescent lights buzzing overhead while shopping at a Goodwill. I found nothing inherently wrong with it, but nothing compelling either.

On the one hand, lovely lyrics in “Dream the Dare” such as: “Diamond islands in your eyes/Blackest in the sun/Ancient watcher divinate/You're the only one” charmed me, and I'd be happy for them to accompany me on a sunny springtime drive down the 101.

Sarah Versprille (vocals) and Daniel Hindman (guitar), both of Vetiver fame and nurturing the atavistic Morrissey version of the late 20th century, muddled a cocktail of safe chord progressions and four word poetic verse that would be impressive from the diary of a precocious teen girl.

Granted, I bet that girl would be quite a catch a decade later, but I'm still not sure her interior monologue translates perfectly into music.

Zach Tillman carried the whole performance on bass, though to Versprille's credit, her impromptu whoops and warbles seemed heartfelt and infectiously exuberant.

Pure Bathing Culture may have some stage polishing to do, but I would still recommend seeing them live for a genuine good time. Even without the context of being offered dirty needles by a grim denizen of the Tenderloin just outside, this is not a tour to be missed.


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